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Bar Council Of Andhra Pradesh v/s Kurapati Satyanarayana: Professional Misconduct By Advocate For Retaining The Money Of Client

The most responsible, affluent, and intelligent member of society is an advocate. His actions set an example for society and should be monitored. The Bar Council of India and the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh v. Kurapati Satyanarayana case deals with professional misconduct. Advocate Kurapati Satyanarayana was hired by Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam to represent him in the execution proceedings, and he received a total of Rs.14, 600/- on various dates in those proceedings on behalf of his client, but the statutory bodies orders were appealed in this case.

The Supreme Court has expanded the definition of the term misconduct multiple times; therefore the list of professional misconduct is not all-inclusive. The legal profession is typically not a trade or business; rather, it is a pleasant, honourable, and clean vocation. The way that the profession's members conduct themselves determines the profession's credibility and reputation.

Primary Details Of The Case
Case No.: Civil Appeal No. 3412 of 2001
Jurisdiction: Supreme Court of India
Case Filed On: January 3, 2000
Case Decided On: November 15, 2002
Judges: Justice V. N. Khare, Justice Ashok Bhan

Legal Provisions Involved: Advocates Act, 1961, Section 38; Bar Council of India, Rule 23 and Rule 24; Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988

Brief Facts Of The Case
  • The Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh has filed this appeal against the order of the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India dated March 28, 1999 by which the Bar Council of India has set aside the order passed by the State Bar Council removing the name of the Kurapati Satyanarayana from the roll of the State Bar Council as he was found guilty of grave professional misconduct in the discharge of his duties.
     
  • Initially, O.S. No 1624 of 1991 was filed by the Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam on the file of the Additional District Munsif Magistrate. The said suit was decreed and the Execution Petition No. 112 of 1995 was instituted for realization of the decretal amount. Kurapati Satyanarayana was engaged as counsel by Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam in the execution proceedings.
     
  • Kurapati Satyanarayana received a total sum of Rs. 14,600/- on various dates in the execution proceedings but he did not make the payment of the same to Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam. Hence, on October 18, 1996 Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam filed a complaint with the Additional District Munsif who then transferred the matter to the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh.
     
  • The complaint filed and important documents were forwarded to the State Bar Council, and Kurapati Satyanarayana chose not to file a counter. Hence the matter went to its Disciplinary Committee which, after examining the witnesses produced, came to the conclusion that Kurapati Satyanarayana received the total sum of Rs. 14,600/- belonging to Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam and retained the same with him. Hence, the disciplinary committee of the State Bar Council concluded that the Advocate had retained the money with him and was thus guilty of professional misconduct. He was directed to return the money to the complainant.
     
  • Kurapati Satyanarayana asserted that he had informed Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam through a postcard about the receipt of the decretal amount and that on April 24, 1996, he paid Rs. 11,000/- to Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam. However, these were not accepted by the Disciplinary Committee as Kurapati Satyanarayana failed to produce any evidence proving the payment of the sum of Rs. 11,000/-.
     
  • Kurapati Satyanarayana then filed an appeal before the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India. The Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India agreed with the finding of fact recorded by the State Bar Council that Kurapati Satyanarayana failed to pay the amount of Rs. 14,600/- received by him on the behalf of Shri Gutta Nagabhushanam in the execution proceedings but came to the conclusion that Kurapati Satyanarayana did not commit any professional misconduct, though there might have been some negligence on his part.
     
  • The Disciplinary Committee of Bar Council of India observed that the conduct of the appellant shows that Kurapati Satyanarayana never refused to return the money the same and also, he had made part payment of the total amount. Perusal of the file shows that Kurapati Satyanarayana could not make the payment of the remaining amount because of his family circumstances as the remaining amount was utilized by him in his treatment. The Committee concluded that Kurapati Satyanarayana never wanted to misappropriate the decretal amount and hence, the Bar Council of India set aside the State Bar Council's order holding that the delinquent had not committed any professional misconduct though there might have been some negligence on his part, which did not involve any moral turpitude.
     
  • The Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh has filed this appeal against the aforesaid order of the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India.

Issues Involved In The Case
  1. Whether or not retaining client's money by an advocate amounts to professional misconduct?
  2. Whether or not in this case retaining client's money is just negligence on the part of Kurapati Satyanarayana?
  3. Whether or not Kurapati Satyanarayana is guilty of professional misconduct?
  4. Whether the Disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of India has erred in giving judgment?
  5. Whether the disciplinary committee can modify the earlier order passed by another disciplinary committee by taking a different view of the same set of facts in exercise of power of review?

Arguments Of The Parties
Appellant
  • The appellant Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh filed appeal petition against the order of the Bar Council of India which set aside its order of removing the name of Kurapati Satyanarayana from the State roll as it was of the view that he committed one of the gravest professional misconduct as he retained money belonging to his client Shri Nagabhushanam.
Respondent
  • The point raised before the court on behalf of the advocate responded is that the appeal filed by the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh is not maintainable as it is not the person aggrieved so this appeal is not maintainable.
Legal Aspects Involved In The Case
The Advocates Act, 1961
Section 38. Appeal to the Supreme Court.´┐ŻAny person aggrieved by an order made by the disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of India under Section 36 or Section 37 [or the Attorney-General of India or the Advocate-General of the State concerned, as the case may be,] may within sixty days of the date on which the order is communicated to him, prefer an appeal to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court may pass such order [(including an order varying the punishment awarded by the disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of India)] thereon as it deems fit: [Provided that no order of the disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of India shall be varied by the Supreme Court so as to prejudicially affect the person aggrieved without giving him a reasonable opportunity of being heard.]

Bar Council of India Rules
Part-VI, Chapter- II of the Bar Council of India Rules provides Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette for advocates.

Rule 24 of the aforesaid Chapter provides that an advocate shall not do anything whereby he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client. Rule 25 says that an Advocate should keep accounts of the client's money entrusted to him.

Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988
If a public servant misappropriates money, he is liable to the punished under the Prevention of Corruption Act, with imprisonment which shall not be less than one year.

Judgement In Brief
  • Apex Court found that the order of the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India is unsustainable. It is sad that the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India which is the highest body to monitor the probity of the legal profession in the country chose to trivialise and treat a very grave professional misconduct on the part of the Delinquent lightly by saying that the Delinquent did not make the payment to the de-facto complainant as he had utilised the money for his personal need for treatment and that such like instances do take place when a person is in trouble.
     
  • The Supreme Court said that the finding of the Bar Council of India that there was no intention on the part of the advocate to misappropriate the money of his client was not only "unfounded and perverse" but also lacked the serious thought which was required to be given to the disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of India in the discharge of quasi-judicial functions while probing into such grave instances.
     
  • Further, it said that it was neither pleaded nor shown that Mr. Kurapati Satyanarayana was in dire financial difficulty which promoted him to utilize the decretal amount for his treatment which was with him in trust. This is an act of breach of trust. It said that "we are firmly of the view that such types of excuses cannot be entertained being frivolous and unsustainable".
     
  • The Supreme Court referred to the case of Harish Chandra Tiwari Baiju, in which it was held that "Amongst the various types of misconduct envisaged for a legal practitioner the misappropriation of the client's money must be regarded as one of the gravest." It was observed that:
    "Among the different types of misconduct envisaged for a legal practitioner misappropriation of the client's money must be regarded as one of the gravest. In his professional capacity, the legal practitioner has to collect money from the client towards expenses of the litigation or withdraw money from the Court payable to the client or take money of the Client to be deposited in Court. In all such cases, when the money of the client reaches his hand, it is a trust.

    If a public servant misappropriates money, he is liable to be punished under the present Prevention of Corruption Act, with imprisonment which shall not be less than one year. He is certain to be dismissed from service. But if an advocate misappropriates money of the client there is no justification in de-escalating the gravity of the misdemeanor. Perhaps the gravity of such breach of trust would be mitigated when the misappropriation remained only for temporary period. There may be a justification to award a lesser punishment in a case where the delinquent Advocate the money before commencing the disciplinary proceedings."
     
  • The Supreme Court said that the pleading of the point raised by the respondent that the appeal filed by the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh is not maintainable need not be dilated as seven Judge Constitution Bench of this Court held in Bar Council of Maharashtra M. V. Dabholkar and others that the role of Bar Council is of dual capacity one as the prosecutor through its Executive Committee and the other quasi-judicial performed through its Disciplinary Committee.
     
  • Setting aside the Bar Council of India's order, the Bench said that the conduct of the delinquent advocate who is an elderly gentleman is reprehensible and is unbecoming of an advocate. It deeply pains us that the delinquent who claimed to have practised for three decades and has worked as Government advocate for four years should have been guilty of such serious misconduct.
     
  • Hence, the Supreme Court has upheld the order of the Andhra Pradesh Bar Council removing the name of the advocate from its rolls after he was found guilty of grave professional misconduct in the discharge of his duties and also the appellant shall be entitled to the costs of this appeal, which was assessed as Rs. 5,000/-.

Commentary
The role of the advocates in the society is of great importance. They being part of justice delivering holds great reverence and respect in the society. Each individual has a well-defined code of conduct which needs to be followed by the person living in the society.

An advocate in discharging his professional assignment has a duty to his client. In the present case the act of advocate responded is considered as breach of trust as the money of his client de facto complainant was retain by the advocate and Apex Court found Advocate responded guilty of a grave professional misconduct and feel that having regard to the serious nature of misconduct the punishment of removal of his name from the roll of Bar Council would be the only appropriate punishment.

Adherence to the correct professional conduct in the discharge of one's duties as an advocate is the backbone of legal system. Any laxity while judging the misconduct which is not bona fide and dishonest would undermine the confidence of the litigant public resulting in the collapse of legal system. While placing the law before the court an advocate is at liberty to put forth a proposition and canvass the same to the best of his wits and ability so as to persuade an exposition which would serve the interest of his client and the society.

Important Cases Referred
  • Bar Council of Maharashtra v. M.V. Dabholkar & Ors., 1975 (2) SCC 702
  • Harish Chandra Tiwari v. Baiju, 2002 (2) SCC 67

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